If you are a lawyer, accountant, or any kind of consultant you probably get an adrenalin rush when you meet someone at a networking event with “Big Mega Corporation” on her nametag. That’s what you are there for, to make the connections that will bring in the business.
Most of the time, though, Big Mega’s C-level executives aren’t out there networking at public events. At least not here in Princeton. Those events take place in New York, Philadelphia, or the dauntingly remote parts of North Jersey. But a venerable national organization, the half-century old Association for Corporate Growth, has opened a New Jersey chapter, which is edging into Princeton, with bimonthly events.
The ACG is for people involved in growing middle market corporations, says Mark Kuehn, founder and president of the chapter. And these companies want to accomplish this growth by doing transactions (mergers and acquisitions) rather than merely growing from within. The general membership encompasses C-level executives of big companies plus professionals interested in the transaction business — lenders, investment bankers, attorneys, and accountants. Annual individual dues of $475 (all memberships are individual) include most event fees. With its forums, education, and networking, it claims to be first among international associations of its kind.
At an ACG meeting on Thursday, January 8, at 6 p.m. at the Westin Princeton in Forrestal Village, John Martinson, managing partner of Lenox Drive-based Edison Venture Fund, will present “Building a Successful Company During Difficult Economic Times.” Cost: $60. Call 877-224-6667, or visit www.acg.org/newjersey.
“ACG has been growing in New Jersey, but there was a lot of feedback that, coming from Princeton, the drive was too long,” says Kuehn, a business and transactional attorney with Gibbons in Newark. About 80 people have come to each of the two Princeton meetings held so far.
ACG is a subset of the mergers & acquisitions community, says Myron Gellman, the managing director of the Mercadien Group on Quakerbridge Road, who chairs the Princeton branch of the New Jersey chapter. He and other Mercadien principals also belong to a number of other organizations, such as the Turnaround Management Association, Financial Executive International, BioNJ, the New Jersey Technology Council, the New Jersey Tooling and Manufacturing Association, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Manufacturing Council, New Jersey Entrepreneurs Network, the American Management Association, and both the Princeton and Mercer chambers of commerce, and the state chamber.
The technology councils, like NJTC and BioNJ, are more industry focused, he says, and the entrepreneurial networks are “early stage” focused. The New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the state chamber, he says, are company membership organizations that get involved with state issues, whereas ACG is looking internally, to build companies and find capital for growth.
Chambers of commerce, says Gellman, help generate contacts and brand awareness, but, says Gellman, “I have never seen private equity firms at chamber events. The transaction lawyers and the CPAs go to the chambers, but they are looking for smaller clients, for tax, accounting, and other outsourced work.” Those attending the ACG events are interested in doing specific transactions, the ones that fly under the radar. “It’s a certain band of work within the general focus of law, CPA, and insurance brokerage firms. We are trying to bring that band together.”
Gellman says there is a big untapped market for that community. “We have a lot of big companies here in Princeton, and they don’t want to go to Philadelphia or New York for a 7:30 a.m. meeting. Instead of moving the population to the cities, I am trying to move the event to the market.”
Not content with averaging 80 attendees, he wants to break 100 in January, get 100 active members in the Princeton community over 12 months, and build 25 to 35 new members per year.
Meetings last nearly two and a half hours, longer than the norm, but evenly divided between networking and education. In October Matthew Farrell, Church & Dwight’s CFO, discussed that company’s recent mergers and acquisition activities. In September Tim Spring talked about how Marcal Paper was bought and how he did the turnaround.
The most recent program for ACG-NJ dealt with the struggling economy. Four senior officers of large companies talked about the difficulties of doing transactions right now. A representative from a rental car company told how Detroit’s difficulties affected his business, but the one from AOL told a more hopeful story.
Gellman grew up in the Freehold area, where his father was a farmer and his mother a bookkeeper. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1986, has an MBA from Monmouth University and is a registered investment advisor. He joined Mercadien in 1997 as a business consultant doing financial, business, and management consulting. He was part of the team that brought the Mount Ritter Group into Mercadien.
Kuehn, the president of the New Jersey chapter, leads ACG forums for CEOs and corporate development officers in New York and New Jersey. He grew up on Long Island, the son of an engineer, and graduated summa cum laude from Ohio University. He has law degrees from William & Mary and New York University. He left law for 15 years, ran several companies, sold a business, and did investment banking before going back to law in 2001. Having been active in ACG in New York, he saw the need for it in New Jersey and established the chapter.
Surely these professionals focused on doing M&A deals are hurting for capital in this economy. Indeed, the most recent survey by ACG and Thomson Reuters, released on December 9, “reveals the most negative outlook in the history of the survey.” The current M&A environment is fair or poor according to 86 percent of the deal makers. Just 18 months ago 93 percent of them said it was good or excellent. It dropped to 72 percent in December, 2007, to 43 percent in June, 2008 and 14 percent in December. Only 24 percent think it will get better within six months.
What does bad news mean for ACG? You network now for deals later, says Kuehn. “I have several clients that started with relationships at ACG that led to several transactions.” Even if you lost your job as a C-level executive, you might still be able to attend the CEO forums or the CDO forums. “We love to support corporate development people in transition,” says Kuehn. “Several have gotten jobs through ACG.”